The Expat Revisted: Caspar Chittenden

CV: Caspar Chittenden
From: West Sussex, England
Age: 27
Profession: Property broker at Gateway To South America
Education: Property management degree at South Bank University, London
Currently reading: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Last film seen: The Pianist
Gadget: My BlackBerry

Why did you originally come to Argentina?
I first came here in 2007 and it was a move I made from London after finishing my studies in property management. At the time, the property market was taking a bit of a downturn and so I decided instead of going in and battling it out there, I’d leave London, where I’d been studying for several years.
I liked Buenos Aires as I’d come to visit in 2005, so I contacted a few consultancy companies based here, looking for work experience. My idea has been to come for a year, see what the market was like, get out of London, learn a language and experience new things.

It must have made an impact.
Yes, but back in 2005 it was a country which had just come out of a big crisis, there was a lot of hope and there was also a lot of opportunity. I was looking around at a city which had been built in the 1920s, beautiful architecture, stunning French apartments which people were picking up for 200 grand. People were renovating them and then renting them out as short-term rentals and getting very competitive returns. That really interested me.
So I thought that I wanted to come back within 12 months and check it out. And a year and a bit later, I was here.

What has kept you here over the past three years, besides work?
Friends, definitely. I’ve met some really interesting and fun people. I love the weather, and my day-to-day routine. I enjoy cycling to work each day, I work in a great office and have fun weekends with my mates.

What happened to the company you were running?
Design Developments is still bubbling away. Justin, my business partner, is back in the US and we consult on the side. But the reality is that 2009 wasn’t the best time to be looking for investors — everybody was tightening their belts.
Looking back, there’s a few things I would have done differently, but it was a great experience and I’d like to pick it up again within the year. It’s a great concept and we put a lot of work into it, so it would be great to further execute it.

What do you do now?
I started working for Gateway to South America after Justin moved back to the States, and they were involved in large commercial farm sales and didn’t do any residential sales, which I was interested in. I thought “I could be interested in farming” but my experience was residential and my knowledge was based around the capital.
We all thought it was best for me to start the residential section of the company. So I buy and sell property for domestic and international clients, but it isn’t as straightforward as one might think! Each deal is different, and if a foreigner is selling a property, they have to have lots of certificates to deal with, which can be complicated to get.

You must have the chance to nose around interesting properties that most people could never hope to see.
I do! Buenos Aires has got some incredible places, some serious apartments. We have a penthouse in Puerto Madero which is 340 square metres with a 50-metre terrace and dock views — it’s absolutely beautiful and immaculate. Some people like Puerto Madero which houses the Miami style of Buenos Aires, although it’s not to my preference personally.
We also have an apartment in Recoleta, a whole top floor, and completely renovated, marble from Turkey — it’s a prime example of a classic French apartment which has been brought up to the standard of 2012. It’s gorgeous.

Which is your favourite property?
A while ago, there was a property on the edge of Palermo Hollywood on the market, which was an 800-metre, renovated warehouse and I’m a massive fan of such spaces — it was big, open-plan, huge high ceilings, factory style, industrial kitchen with a modern touch, a rooftop garden and pool. I saw it once and I loved it. You couldn’t buy something like that in London — it would just cost too much. Eight hundred metres — it’s almost too much! But that was sold… and I don’t know who to!

You’ve moved around several times in the past three years. Where do you live now?
At the moment I’m living in Palermo Hollywood. I’ve always gone in for the six-month rentals, as I fancy a change, or get bored, or see something else I like. I don’t have tons of possessions, just enough, so moving isn’t a problem for me.
At the moment I live in a brick-front building, built by one of my favourite architects in the city, Andrea López Amitrano. It’s slightly industrial on the inside, with exposed steel, and I live on the top floor overlooking some television studios.

What does Palermo hold for you?
I like the greenness and all the trees in the area. I like the small cafés and the boutiques. I prefer Palermo Hollywood as it was always a little bit more edgy, but there’s a good mix of cafés, restaurants, the local deli around the corner which has been around for 40 years, or a café which is squashed in between two film studios which has been serving the same customers for 50 years. I like that blend, the mix of old and new.
It’s the feel of the area, mainly, as it’s a bit calmer than Palermo Soho, which is great and I’ve lived there before, but coming out of your home on a Saturday morning and having to beat jewellery-makers from your front-door steps loses its charm.

What changes have you seen in the neighbourhood?
Bigger brand names have come into the area, well-known hotels, and there has been a big increase in boutique hotels in Soho. There’s also new restaurants and bars opening up every month in Hollywood — plus the amount of building which has gone in the past three years is insane. The place is like a construction site. On every street there’s something new. You might walk past an old building, then suddenly it’s been boarded up with a sign saying it’s “under construction,” and it’s going to be torn down to become another white-washed building. I think Hollywood has seen more changes in the past few years than Soho has.

Do you approve of the developments?
Soho has become a popular destination for tourists and it’s a shopping destination for the city. Go there on the weekend and it’s full of shoppers which is great for the area, great for the economy and great for small businesses — there’s nothing wrong with that.
It’s hard to build in Soho now because there are height limitations so it doesn’t make sense for developers to invest there, which is why Hollywood has seen so much development. But prices have escalated steadily — you’re now looking at up to US$3,500 a square metre for a new building there. Three years ago, it was up to US$1,000, so because of that, developers are looking more to Colegiales and Villa Crespo.

What do you think about areas being given a “Palermo” tag?
It’s just a sales thing, and I think if someone tries to get away with it, when they are selling an apartment in Palermo Queens when we all know it’s really Villa Crespo, I’m just going to giggle! Everyone knows that!
Every time I’ve moved I’ve always checked out Villa Crespo, as you can always find something nice there. As it happens, I’ve never moved there but definitely I wouldn’t say no to it.

Will you be here in 2015?
It’s hard to say. As everyone knows, this country has its ups and downs and you never know what might change in the future which might inhibit buying and selling properties. But until that happens, I see myself here for the future.

What would you do as mayor?
Clean all the dog poo off the streets. I can’t stand it. And sort out the flooding in Palermo every time it rains.

What’s your most Argentine characteristic?
Staying up very late! Eating dinner later and taking siestas at the weekend.

‘I cycle everywhere but the bike lanes are awful’
A keen cyclist, one reason that has kept property broker Caspar Chittenen in Argentina for five years is the fact he can cycle to work. So when City Mayor Mauricio Macri introduced free bike hire, and more importantly, bike lanes around the capital, Chittenden must have been thrilled.
On the contrary.
“Actually, the bicisendas are awful and very dangerous and I don’t use them,” he says. “People always walk into them, cars are always half parked in them, amd the bicisendas aren’t treated. I ride a racing bike — it’s basically a modified track bike with very thin wheels — and if I see a bump, I can’t go over it or I’ll be buggered. So I cycle with the traffic.
“For a lot of people who won’t cycle unless they are set apart from cars, obviously it is fine. If you ride a mountain bike or a playera, then the bicisenda is for you. But for the kind of cycling I do, it’s not ideal.”
Surprising words from a keen cyclist who might be expected to wax lyrical about riding in a safer style across the capital. So what would it take for him to get back on the bike lanes?
Chittenden says: “They need better tarmac. They are all located at the side of roads too, so slope in a bit. And people need to pay more attention about stepping into them! The last thing you want to do is run down an old lady. And they need to be better maintained. They just segregate a piece of road with some yellow paint and that’s it.
“But not many people ride track bikes in the city, so for the majority they are fine. I sometimes use the bicisenda on Libertador, very occasionally, but to be honest, I prefer cycling on roads — it’s much more fun. I sound like a crazy man but that’s just how it is! It’s like a higher state of concentration which I go into.”
So what does he think about the free bike hire? “I think it’s a great concept, really positive, although I’ve never used one, but this is a great city to bike in as it’s pretty flat, and the more people with bikes, the better. I’ve got into it in the past three years and cycle everywhere. The days I have to get on a bus are very sad days for me, as I absolutely hate them.”
And what does Critical Mass mean for him? “I’m part of a small cycling group who all have fixed gear-track bikes and we meet up every month. I love it and it’s the best Sunday of the month. It’s leisurely and you can stop for a bit. The atmosphere is amazing. So many eccentric cyclists come with home-made bikes, or flower-pots on their head, or playing the flute, or with a sound system. I’d recommend it to everyone as it’s such fun and a real celebration of all things bicycle.”

Published in the Buenos Aires Herald on Sunday, March 18, 2012
Photo by Mariano Fuchila

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